Outwit, outplay and outlast your to-do list with GTD and the pomodoro technique. Inspired by Survivor gameplays.

If you are a Survivor fan like me, then you have probably given some thought into your ideal gameplay if you were ever a contestant on the show.

The game requires you to outwit, outplay and outlast all the other contestants. But, to do so, you need a strategy.

You could play a physical game: be physically strong to win immunity and avoid elimination at the next tribal council.

The social game: build strong relationships with other contestants and form an alliance to take you through to the end.

At the final two, your fate of winning is in the hands of the jury. The jury is made up of eliminated contestants who you either directly or indirectly played a part in voting out.

They're salty about losing and they now hold power in deciding who the sole survivor is.

The basis of their vote is one of two. Whether you were a "goat," a weak player carried through to the end who didn't make any big moves. Or a mastermind, a player who orchestrated big gameplays, shifting the dynamic of the tribe for your survival.

When you think of Survivor or games and sports like chess, footy, Monopoly, basketball... they all have active strategic elements to them.

One universal aspect that unites these games is the concept is simple; your goal is to win. Score the most points, get to the finish line or capture the king.

Look at your to-do list the same way.

The concept of a to-do list is simple, but the execution must be specific. Without a solid strategy, things will be messy, and you could be creating more work for yourself than necessary.

To be productive you need a system to get things done. An action plan.

Some people invent or learn a system. But everyone has one, some just work better than others.

In this post, I've combined two of the most used productivity systems out there 'getting things done' and the pomodoro technique, to help you get your productivity groove on and avoid a to-do list blindside.

Get things done with GTD strategy

Getting things done, also known as GTD, is a task management system created by productivity guru, David Allen.

A task management system is essentially a way to identify, monitor and progress through your to-do list.

GTD focuses on the martial arts analogy "a mind like water." A clear mental state so you can focus on what needs your attention.

Because the more you have bouncing around in your head; information, thoughts and tasks, the more difficult it is to decide what is a priority.

When information piles up, your mind becomes a whirlwind of stress and uncertainty, leading you down the path to procrastination.

GTD has a few rules to stop you from wasting time trying to figure out what to do next and instead, focus on just doing them. Here is the basic methodology;

  1. Capture everything that comes to your mind, to-do's, ideas and recurring tasks like emails that need actioning. Put pen to paper and write all of these down. You want to capture everything as soon as it comes to mind so you can avoid thinking about that task until it's time to action it.
  2. Clarify the tasks you have to do. Don't say, "start project." Break the project down into actionable steps to avoid barriers. If there are tasks you can action right away and have the time, get them done. If there are tasks you can delegate, delegate them. This video from David Allen will help you to clarify your to-dos, so you can action them right away and avoid forgetting what you meant when you first wrote them down.
  3. Organise your tasks. Set a priority level for each task, categorise by importance and assign due dates where you can with calendar reminders. Pay close attention to each item's priority level. You may not be actioning these tasks right now, rather, you are making sure they are in the right buckets for later with set reminders.
  4. Reflect regularly. It is important to review your to-do list. Check your to-dos and see what your next task will be. This is where step 2: Clarify, pays off. You should be able to choose a task that matches your current availability and energy levels. At the end of each week, track your progress and adjust your priorities accordingly.
  5. Engage and get to work! Your system at this point is set up in a way to help you figure out what tasks you can work on, and when. Your to-dos are placed in categories and organised by priority, broken into manageable, bite-sized chunks that are quick and easy to get started on.

These five steps are the basic principles of GTD, giving you a way to get everything out of your head, like a brain dump, and into a system to organise and break them down for you.

The next time you look at your to-do list, there shouldn't be any confusion with what you need to do next, or what is important. You will spend less time thinking about what you need to do and more time actually doing the work.

80/20 mug on coffee shop table with laptop

The tribe's power couple: focus booster and the pomodoro technique

Time management is the process of consciously controlling the time you spend on tasks so you can increase your efficiency and productivity.

And with these four basic principles of the pomodoro technique, you can achieve exactly that.

  1. Work with time, not against it - Learn to use your time more efficiently and avoid cramming your to-dos into a Friday afternoon because you procrastinated all week.
  2. Reduce burnout and mental fatigue - Short scheduled 5-minute breaks allow your brain the time to rejuvenate and maintain your productivity flow.
  3. Avoid distractions - No matter where you are or what you are doing, distractions are everywhere. Have you ever put on a movie for some background noise while you were cleaning the house? You stopped for a glance, and before you know it, the motivation to continue cleaning is long gone. The pomodoro technique emphasises monotasking, single-tasking NOT multi-tasking. Practice dedicating your attention to a given task and minimise interruptions until the job is complete.
  4. Work-life balance - Something we all want to achieve! Unproductive workdays can place a mountain of guilt on you. The guilt causes a blurred line between work and play - making it difficult for you to enjoy your time off. Regular use of the technique reduces procrastination and improves your ability to manage your time at the office so you can spend your weekends guilt-free!

With these four principles in mind, it's almost a crime if you don't implement the technique now, and focus booster has made it easier than ever for you to do it in just six steps:

  1. Choose a task - Any tasks you may have been putting off lately? Let's tackle one of those.
  2. Focus - Shut down your emails, switch your phone to do not disturb, close your office door. I'm not kidding, whatever you need to do, shut out the possibility for any distractions during your sessions.
  3. Start - Fire up your focus booster timer for 25 minutes and get to work. If at any point an interruption occurs, make a note of it so you can attend to it in your break.
  4. Short break - Completed your first 25-minute session successfully, without getting distracted? Great. Now it's time for a quick 5-minute break. Clear your mind, stretch your legs and maybe refill that coffee cup.
  5. Repeat - Now, repeat steps 2 and 3 three more times.
  6. Long break - After your fourth session, take a 20-minute break, and you will come back totally refreshed.

As the creator of the pomodoro technique, Francesco Cirillo says, "concentration and consciousness lead to speed, one pomodoro at a time."

Each pomodoro session is a new opportunity for you to improve, reevaluate your goals and challenge yourself to focus and avoid distractions.

Form an alliance with GTD and the pomodoro technique

To recap, GTD is a TASK management system, and the pomodoro technique is a TIME management system.

Task management is the process of executing a plan to get the job done and managing the life cycle of a task.

Time management is the process of practising conscious control of your time when working on a task to increase your effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.

So what happens when you combine the two systems?

As part of our "Combining the pomodoro technique with..." series, this combo has to be my favourite so far. It requires a little more execution at the start, but, the hard effort put in now will be worth it in the end.

Your first four steps are similar to that of GTD's. From here on, this is where the pomodoro technique swoops in to help you accomplish your tasks sooner.

  1. Capture
  2. Clarify
  3. Organise - In addition to setting a priority level and category for each task, include a "pomodoro estimation." How many 25-minute sessions do you think it will take to complete this task? This will help when setting your priority levels also.
  4. Reflect
  5. Engage - Time to hustle! Let's say you have a spare 30 minutes in the morning before a meeting. A few phone calls to make, quick emails to send off. Gather all of these tasks together, fire up your focus booster timer for 25-minutes and aim to complete all of these smaller tasks in the desired timeframe. The 25 minutes gives you a goal to work towards, AND, you can nut out a bunch of smaller tasks in one hit!

Daily planner on desk
Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash

Will you play with your heart or your head?

In Survivor, you have two options when deciding how to vote at the next tribal council.

Do you play with your heart? Vote with your alliance to keep everyone happy and save yourself from a potential blindside at the next tribal council.

Or do you play with your head? Make a strategic move and vote against your alliance to eliminate a potential threat.

You should always look at your to-do list with the same strategy in mind.

If your current strategy is no strategy at all, and you know it is time to implement one, consider trying focus booster and the pomodoro technique.

The pomodoro technique is welcoming to anyone who tries it. The key, however, is consistency. You cannot lose weight overnight after one gym sesh, and you cannot skyrocket your productivity with one pomodoro session. Stick with it, and the results will follow.

Or, maybe you are already a productivity guru with a history of success in the pomodoro technique or GTD, and looking to excel your to-do list further. Give our GTD and pomodoro combo a go and hit us up on Twitter to let us know what you think!